Is it safe to live on a former landfill site?
14 August 2017
The UK dumps nearly 50 million tonnes of industrial, commercial and domestic waste into landfill sites every year. The process is tightly regulated and meticulous records are kept of what is, and where it is, dumped. But landfill hasn’t always been this well managed and Britain’s previous appetite for filling holes in the ground is beginning to haunt us.
There are 20,000 former landfill sites across the UK with 1,200 of them on England’s coastline. Prof Kate Spencer from Queen Mary University of London led the investigation for an unpublished report, commissioned by the Environment Agency, looking at these sites and the impact of flooding and coastal erosion. She has raised serious concerns about the impact not only on the environment, but on public health. One example they found was on Clinker Beach in East Tilbury, along the foreshore of the River Thames in Essex, where they reported that a layer of old clothes and plastics hung out of a muddy bank.
Kate said: “You see people rummaging through it, picking up bits of material and taking them home. Certainly I wouldn’t touch any of this without gloves. Here on the floor you can see these little black cylinders - they’re the cells from inside old batteries and we know they used to contain lead and mercury. We’ve analysed the waste and it contains pretty much all the nasty chemicals that you can think of at concentrations that would be predicted to cause significant ecological harm.”
She says it would cost billions of pounds to clean up all the sites so it is important to identify which pose the biggest threat. In 1990, the Environmental Protection Act set out a regime for regulating and licensing the disposal of controlled waste. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) used to offer grants to local authorities to clean up contaminated land, via the Contaminated Land Capital Projects (CLCP) programme. This funding stream came to an end earlier this year.
One site in Dunbar, on the east coast of Scotland, handles 5,000 tonnes of waste every week from Edinburgh. “Before we put any waste in, we put in a metre of engineered clay,” explains Viridor site manager Barry Falgate. “Then it’s lined with a heavy duty plastic, then gravel on top, which catches the water which comes from the waste as it degrades. Then we put plastic over the top and then put soils on it. We have the aftercare of this site for at least 60 years, so we want to make sure that that waste is safe and we can control the waters and gases out of it.”
In Derbyshire a developer wants to build 200 homes on a former landfill site. Amber Valley Rugby Club now occupies the site but they’ve been offered brand new facilities by the developer if they move. Underground testing has shown that remedial work could make the area safe but residents are worried about an adjacent former landfill which contains hazardous waste.
Campaigner Kellie Judson says “My mum stopped growing vegetables because of the foul smells and what was under the ground here. We’re concerned that contamination from the other site could potentially leach on to this one, that disturbing the ground in this area could pose a threat to people living locally.”
The deputy leader of the council, Trevor Ainsworth, supports the development plans. “There are things in the ground that, on the face of it, would be dangerous to human health. However, I know it can be remediated and made safe. It is one of our policies that we regenerate land that has been used as tips - lots of houses now have been built safely on old tips.”
A spokesman for DEFRA said: “Our revised Statutory Guidance means more resource can be directed to those sites most in need and allows local authorities to take a more stringent, risk-based approach when identifying and cleaning up contaminated land.”
The Local Government Association said: “Councils take this issue very seriously and work closely with the Environment Agency, continuing to monitor sites long after they have closed.”
VHE are one of the UK’s leading land remediation contractors that can offer a range of services to councils, developers, landfill site operators and waste companies. To discuss your requirements, please contact one of our specialist team on 01226 320150 or alternatively you can use our quick enquiry form. You can view our previous work for the Environment Agency and Viridor on our website.
Source article http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40308598